Panel Discussion on Afghan Peace Process; The way forward
Sep 26, 2019 – The Women’s Center, AUAF
Shoaib Rahim: Welcome to the panel discussion on the “Afghan Peace Process; The way forward”. My name is Shoaib Rahim. I am the senior advisor to the State Ministry for Peace [SMP].
The panel discussion today is being co-hosted by the State Ministry for Peace [SMP] along with American University of Afghanistan [AUAF] as well as the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies [AIAS]. This will be the first of many panel discussions and talks and series of events. The State Ministry for Peace believes that we should create more platforms to be able to reflect voices and the diverse range of opinions within the country to the global stage with the hope and the intention that we slowly try to shift the center of gravity of the peace process to where the peace is actually supposed to happen. With that in mind I would like to introduce the moderator for today’s panel discussion Mr. David Sedney who, as you all know, the president of the American University of Afghanistan. Mr. Sedney previously served as the chair of the board of trustees of AUAF and as acting president and as deputy assistant secretary of defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia, deputy assistant secretary of defense for east Asia, served as deputy chief of mission US embassies of Beijing, Kabul, Baku. Mr. Sedney is a graduate of Preston University and Suffolk University School of Law, he distinguished graduate of the National War College and has received the secretary of defense medal for distinguished public service. I will handed over to David now, please!
David Sedney: Thank you very much,
On behalf of the university I would like to welcome everybody to the American University of Afghanistan for this session of the ‘way forward of the peace’. I want to thank the [State] Ministry of Peace and the American Institute of Afghan Studies for co-hosting and playing major roles in organizing this event today. I have noted that early in the week we also along with the US Institute of Peace [USIP] hosted a two-day peace summit with young people from all over Afghanistan talking about ways forward with peace and coming up with ideas. So, this is a major focus of the university and maybe the major focus for the country of Afghanistan. The topic of peace is really paramount and I look forward along with all of you to hearing the views of our panelists today. From starting on the left, we have Professor William Maley from Australia. Professor Maley is a very distinguished scholar. He written books and articles on ranges of subjects. Most recently, he’s published piece on Australia and Afghanistan relations which was presented earlier this week at the Australian Embassy here and two weeks ago in the Australian capital, Canberra. We are fortunate to have him as election observer, something he has done five times before. We are very very honored to have Professor William Maley here. Here we have minister/governor Sarabi because she has been both, the minister of woman affairs [and] she was governor of Bamyan province, someone who is an eloquent voice for the rights of women and the interests of women in peace but also a voice for all of Afghans from everywhere in Afghanistan and their interests in peace. I would like to also introduce Omar Sadr. We are very fortunate that he is professor here at the American University of Afghanistan. He received his PhD from the South Asia University in New Delhi and he has written extensively on peace process, diversity and multi-culturalism and critical thought as well as the history of Afghanistan. So, he has very wide range set of academic interest and we look forward to his thoughts today on peace. Finally, speaking last is Sami Mahdi, journalist, who is now the bureau chief of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Before that he was with Tolo TV and hosted a number of programs on Tolo TV. We have connection because among the sitting here, he is the one who lived in Boston. Sami Mahdi is Fulbright student at the University of Massachusetts in Boston. So, fellow Bostonian and maybe we can go to red-socks or something like that [laughter] – it’s an inside joke for people who follow American Baseball which I am sure there are too many here. With that let me say that the format going to be such that the panelists will speak from about 7 to 10 minutes and then we will move to questions and look for very active questions. I want to thank all of you for coming, we have members of faculty and we have several students here as well so I want to thank everyone for being here. Professor Maley if I can ask you to start please!
Prof. William Maley: David, thank you very much! It’s a great pleasure to be here at the American University and have the opportunity to share some thoughts about the whole peace process issue. I mention two things on the issue. One thing is that I have been writing about the issue of talking to the Taliban for more than 12 years now. I first publish a paper about this in the World Today in London in 2007. But the perspective that I want to adopt in my remarks today is not so much of that of somebody who worked on Afghanistan for a long period of time but rather drawn from my job as professor of diplomacy and I am interested in saying a little bit about the flaws in the process which has so recently unraveled and some of the dangers of peace process and I hope that I am doing so I will clarify certain amount of debrief that will then open up space for the discussion and questions period as well and I tried out the outset that from the point of view of a professional negotiation enlist. This was one of the most immoderation pole designed processes that I ever have witnessed anywhere in the world. There were six particular flaws in the process that I want to mention right now.
The first was that it commenced in the context of routine messages coming out to be effect that there was no military solution to the problem in Afghanistan, combined with the whole range of rhetorical devices suggesting not just to desire but almost to desperation for agreement on the part of the negotiating team from the United States. One of the very basic rules of the negotiating is not to make it look the outset as you are very very keen to get an agreement because that invites the other side to demand as much possible and concede as little as possible in the course of the negotiation process. They are going to do that kind of thing anyway. If you look from the outset as you have limited your own options then that similarly limits your scope for maneuverability within a diplomatic process and advantages the people you whom you are engage in. That may not be so much of a problem if you’re talking about what could be a win-win negotiation but it is pretty clear that for a large number of people in Afghanistan there was a great fear that this will end up being a win-lose negotiation creating significant bodies of loses for the prospect.
Second serious problem was the exclusion of the Afghan government but with one very peculiar feature which has not received very attention at all. One press report that came out after the seventh September but which later kind of disappeared into the fog noted that later in the stage has been a proposal for the release of 5,000 prisoners from Afghan jails coming from the Taliban. Now, this is pretty essentially for the kind of thing that the American team should have make with the response that “we cannot do that, you need to talk to the Afghan government about that” because although there were many things under discussion which the United States could unilaterally deliver such as [the] withdrawal of forces, it was not in the position unilaterally to deliver the release of the prisoners in the custody of the Afghan government. That had the effect that I suspect wasn’t fully understood by the negotiating team of turning the Afghan Government into the veto player from the purpose of the on-going trajectory of the Negotiation- It didn’t reach that point because of President Trump’s tweet but that had the potential to get a very different twist to what the next stage of the negotiation would have resemble and suggested a real design from my point of view. Another problem with the process was that the United States proved in fact to be the gift on tips on giving really that the Taliban received the precious gift of a seat at the table with the United States in exchange for virtually non-meaningful concessions at the stage and that is not a good idea. Coming back to the point that I was making earlier about the atmosphere, that seat at the table remained available to them even after the ninth of May when the attack occurred in Kabul on the Counterpart International office which sought civilians being attacked in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law, when they were working in the projects that were actually funded partly by the United States Agency for International Development and if ever there was man in the negotiation process where a negotiator should have said this has reached too far, come back when your behavior is acceptable that was the time to do it. Some, the older among us, may remember that in the late 1990s a prominent member of the Taliban hit a UN staff on the head in Kandahar with an empty teapot and that was sufficient to prompt Ambassador Brahimi at the time to require the withdrawal of UN staff from Kandahar and he made a very clear explanation. He said if you want to be accepted in the table internationally there are rules that you have to follow, if you are not prepare to follow them then don’t expect to be acceptable actor. It is very dangerous to signal to actors in the negotiation that no matter whatever they do they retain a place in the table you tie your hands and you make little of it.
Another significant problem in a negotiation is if sects or groups are kept well away from the negotiation table and the obvious example of this was women in Afghanistan who whatever the [inaudible] of the last 20 years have had very significant changes in opportunities available to them and every reason to fear that political arrangements might see their gains being sacrificed for a bargaining process. When that is the case, if groups as such are excluded from the negotiating process in order to keep the team small or in order to prevent people from raising difficult issues it simply setting the scene for significant problems at a later stage of implementation.
There was in addition the problem, I think, of a controversial US negotiator, widely welcomed by a lot of international actors but regarded with skepticism by a range of circles in Afghanistan. I remember a former US ambassador saying to me once that he felt the United States never send as an ambassador or an envoy to the country somebody who was the citizen of that country, simply because the issue of identity - beyond the control of the individual concern – would blare signaling, leaving doubt about whether the individual involve in the negotiation was showing United State’s agenda or personal agenda or his or her agenda. It is a stage warning about the way a personality can intrude into a diplomatic negotiation. Of course, some remember Dr. Khalilzad’s article in ‘The Washington Post’ in 1996 after the Taliban took Kabul called ‘Afghanistan: time to reengage’ which had some pretty naïve views about what was likely to happen here.
And then one very dramatic change, which occurred during the course of negotiation, was a shift away change from the initial mean rather ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ in favor of a different notion, a two stage process in which there would initially be an agreement on the withdrawal of US forces and the prevention of the use of Afghan territory by international terrorist with what had initially been part of the ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ formula being remitted to a later stage. Now, [inaudible] has a say on negating said ‘it is better to deal with people in appetite than people who are with I want to be, and that’s the reason for saying ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ if people have a kind of prospect in a negotiation of getting something I would like you then use that as a way of leveraging concessions from the same actor at the later stage, if you say at the middle of the process you actually give them what they want without the handing leverage with recover what you would like. And that let me to couple of points to make about the dangers of peace processes broadly. Peace processes are not neutral. They effect the environment within which the negotiation itself being structured and carried out. A peace process can insistencies violent behavior. If the succession of violence is not pre-condition for participation of the process it can actually provide a participant with an incentive to use violence to try to gain as much territorial control as possible, so that when the negotiation reaches a critical point the power that is used in violence is in what it sees a strong position to get what it wants at its crunch time.
Peace processes can also have a moral effect on the wider environment. It was a very interesting article in the New York Times quite recently – a solder from the Afghan National Army talking about the conundrum of the situation in which he was being asked to die for the state - while people associated with the political community were engaged in the negotiation with the Taliban – s a truly peculiar issue. In the worst situation a peace agreement can actually trigger a cascade in which people who may not lack – a group like the Taliban may nonetheless align with some because initially it is not a good idea on what it seems to be a losing side. Thomas Hobbes once said ‘reputation of power is power’ and if one of the worse thing about the recent negotiation was that it undermined the reputation of the Afghan government and its virtue and its passion with the risk that it could trigger a cascade of people repositioning themselves and suddenly leaving a process fully into pieces in the front of one. Of course, this is particularly in age when you have a peace process which not be really a device by which a great power can run from a situation which it sees as domestically uncomfortable or cut without appearing to run, something that the recent negotiation did not.
The final point I want to make it is very rarely the case that a complex problem can be solved at a high speed with [inaudible] that had solution. Successful peace processes like that of south African peace process have taken years of trust-building amongst actors who have come to distrust themselves each other for racial reasons and I see no reason to think that a [inaudible] situation in Afghanistan has any better prospects than any other situations where failed the world catastrophically.
David Sedney: Thank you very much professor Maley,
I think it is often say that you can’t know where you are going unless you know where you have been and how you got to where you are and I think you have done that part and it sets up the way forward on the peace process ahead of us. So, with that Minister Sarabi, please!
Habiba Sarabi: Thank you very much Sedney and very good morning to all of you,
There is no doubt that every Afghan citizen wants peace, but what is the price of peace for us as an Afghans? This is very important that we have to think about the price of peace. So we always have been talking about what the price of peace is for us. We have close contacts with the community and the people - when I am talking about ‘we’, we as a high peace council and also the people who are engaged with the peace process. There are three things that the people of Afghanistan are emphasizing on. One is the inclusivity of the peace process. Whenever we have been talking when we have been facing with the people of Afghanistan they are talking about inclusion. This is something that I, as a representative of women in the HPC or High Peace Council, always emphasis on. Women are talking that women should be included in the peace process and without the women inclusion the peace process is nothing for us as a woman. Last year we initiated some programs, it was a joint initiative with the High Peace Council and the [First Lady Office] and also with the Ministry of Women Affairs and AWN, the Afghan Women Network. We traveled to every single province and had gatherings on the name of ‘The Women Symposium’. The lessons that we learned from women there is what I am talking about but unfortunately some said that it’s a kind of governmental initiative. So, governments in every country and everywhere pave the road that others should ride on, but if the government cannot pave the road who can pave that one? so that’s why the government as government and semi-government of course civil society was also a part of that initiative that we made this facility to go to every single province and listen to women to get the advice, so they were talking about the inclusion.
The other thing that most of the people were talking about was the transparency in the peace process. Recently, this Saturday actually, with the civilian representative of NATO we were in Herat. We had a meeting with the women representatives and youth representatives. They were talking about the transparency of the peace process and said that the outcomes of peace is much more important than the signing paper. This is very important. The outcome should be something that the people of both sides should receive to some sort of tranquility. It’s not only to sign the paper but the outcome is very important. Also, they were talking about we shouldn’t sacrificed the quality for the speed. We shouldn’t have accelerated the speed or to rush for that. If we can speed up of course we will face some sort of accidents, so that’s why we shouldn’t sacrificed the quality for the speed, this is something that we get from the youth and women representatives. A young lady told me that I am ready to scarify myself if my next generation can be in a proper peace and justice and in a safer environment. This is something we get from the people and this is their desire.
The last thing which is very important that, unfortunately, that peace process was a kind of bottom up. Only the elite of the country were involved with the peace process and also it was negotiation between the US and the Taliban, but the bottom up approach was completely forgotten. So, this is very important that the people should be engaged with the peace process and they should see themselves in the peace process that they can feel ownership for the peace process, this is also important. I was with the last negotiation delegation who negotiated with Hezb-e-Islami, we had 24 terms of negotiation at the end because the women victims’ representative was not included. You could see the result of that, Hamida Barmaki’s picture was hanging on In front door of Hezb-e-Islami and it was a clash between people that time, it was the result of victim exclusion from peace process that time. For Example, yesterday and a day before when Hekmatyar had an election campaign he threatened the people; what does it mean? He is coming for election and running in the election and again he is threatening the people that if he will not be the winner, he will go back and will take the gun and start shooting [at] people. This is something we have to do something from the bottom; people should be engaged with the peace process. Of course we should think about the reconciliation and how to engage people on the community level. So, these were some lessons that I have learnt from the peace process and also for the next step and the way forward. We have to think about the quality of the peace the outcome of the peace rather than the speed of peace. Also for the peace process we have to be patient; it will take time, it will require time, it will require more engagement, so we shouldn’t make some sort of deadlines for the peace process we can make up to September or October or December this is something that we cannot reach to that.
The last issue I want to mention is that some say that we as women, who are raising voice inside Kabul, we are not representatives of people. Who will be representative of people? If I am not representative of people or other women or the people who are working with the civil society if they are not the representatives of the people who are the representatives of people? So, of course we have a very strong engagement with the people who are living in the rural areas or provincial level and step by step of course I cannot go to a very remote areas but if required I will go there, but of course all the time I cannot go but we have the representative from the countryside and from the provincial level and they have the connection or link with the people who are on the village level. This is a kind of network that we have done among the women. That’s why we want to get their voice and the voice of people is very important for the peace process.
Thank you very much.
David Sedney: Thank you very much Minister Sarabi, I have already seen some themes emerging here, the need for patience, for time and for inclusion. Now let me turn to Dr. Sadr for his presentation on the way ahead on peace.
Dr. Omar Sadr: Good morning and thank you David, I think much of the ground was covered by Professor Maley. I will try to present some prepositions about how do we understand the current context and the peace process that we had. Number one, I think its characterized as a political settlement. It was mainly a kind of negotiation for redistribution of power, inclusion of the insurgents and the political process. That also focus on two dimensions which was mainly highlighted in the media and common knowledge. The first one was the possibility of an interim government and second one was of course postponement of the elections and a power sharing model.
The second one is that I think we all understand that Taliban was in a winner, somehow as a result of this negotiations because as Mr. Maley was mentioning they had made no concession first of all but they have ensured the withdrawal of the US forces and thirdly they have also ensured the sidelining of the government of Afghanistan which was a legitimate representative of the people.
Thirdly, government of Afghanistan also lacked institutional capacity and expertise on delivering something on the peace process. It also lacked political consensus within and also institutional supports for it. For example, we had national peace council but we understand that was dysfunctional. Later on ministry of high peace council was created and that was fluting but until now nothing is coming up.
Fourth one is a lot of the failure of this process was also credited to character of ambassador khalilzad that goes back to his own personal history. How he was treating Taliban in back in 90s but also the way that he conducted negotiations in terms of the procedure; the way the sequences were happening. I think one of the problems was that how do you prioritize whether withdrawal should be the first item of negotiations or the ceasefire? Now, we understand that it should have been the ceasefire the first in terms of the sequencing to begin negotiations.
Khalilzad also somehow misunderstood Taliban in the sense that he tried to, as Hussain Haqani characterized, he said that he treated the Taliban as a noble savages instead of threatening them as radical extremists which provided a kind of national context for the other extremists groups in the country. So, that’s why somehow the way that we perceive Taliban, that how much they can be trusted, and how much they can deliver, are also something that we should rethink about it.
Fifth thing is about lack of any platform for regional consensus. Of course ambassador Khalilzad tried to mover around China, Russia, NATO and the US try to create a consensus between these great powers but however we realized that even European Union had a much more value based human rights approach to peace vis-a-vis to a political settlement. But he was not able to establish a platform for regional consensus in the region - the UN was also not in the capacity to create such kind of platform - the central Asian countries, Iranians, the Indians, and Pakistanis so you see the Indians and Iranians are completely excluded in the process. Central Asians take independent initiatives. Pakistan is much more in the focus so there is no unified consensus in the region also.
Last point, I think, lots of literature were produced with respect of peace process but we didn’t come up with a very noble analysis. For example, lots of analysis on the role of women, lack of consensus, how to trust Taliban - the character of Taliban. I think one area that we can focus on and maybe rethink about the whole process is to contextualize it within the global trend of populism. I think the momentum which was created in the peace process of Afghanistan it was controlled by at least two populist presidents and prime minister. President Trump in the United States which was running a populist agenda as well as in the region it was Imran Khan with a populist agenda, in Afghanistan somehow also you have the same, then the question is how populism shift our peace process? We understand that populism is various in context to context but there is some commonalities across countries either in the east or the west. The first one is that politicians try to build up on the dichotomy of corrupt political elite and establishment and what is popular perspective of the people. Secondly also they try to create a kind of “Us versus them” and in this us versus them they try to characterized people as a homogenous category that what we had in Afghanistan is the government try to build up on this narrative of republic that they are defending this value base democracy but I do not realizes that how much the people of Afghanistan as internalized the concept of republic and how much there is a unified perspective when it comes to this kind of political system we are somehow for granted that okay we want republic in this side and Taliban is the evil; of course I do not want to suggest the other way round but this was not something a substantial policy stands the government failed to build up on such kind of rhetoric that they had in their advantage when it comes to the practices.
I think also so many policies that government for example presented the peace Jirga, release of the Taliban they were not much based on the substantial policy decisions rather than were also some sort of populistic rhetoric that they took, the last characteristic of this how we see populism is that some of the constancies traditional and the Taliban constancy for example how they have lost their flat to the other constancies ideally what we expected that traditional anti-Taliban constancy will not set with the Taliban will not compromise some of the values or even in the political negotiations but what it comes was that most of this constancies shifted their perspective and then they wended and they are even given concession and they have give back to people was a very nice beautiful picture of the Taliban that they have change Taliban they are ready to adopt some of the new norms and democracy that later on we realized that was a fail perspective. So, that’s why I proposes that if we come up with a some sort of analytical perspective that how global trend of populism both in the US and in Afghanistan and region shift our peace process and also the outcomes that we have now that will give us a new perspective. Thank you.
David Sedney: Thank you very much, again some very good ideas about things need to be done and moving forward of the peace process, and will have some chances to talk about that in the question and answer, and now Mr. Sami Mahdi my fellow Bostonian.
Sami Mahdi: Thank you so much Mr. Sidney, American University of Afghanistan and Ministry of Peace,
I’m going to talk about the public perception about this peace process and the role of media. First of all, I should say that Taliban are leading the flow of information about the peace process. Afghan government didn’t have access much to it, the American side didn’t want to share and the Taliban were leading the information coming out to the public. So, the public perception and the media was following the lead of the Taliban, for example Mr. Sohail Shaheen Taliban’s spokesperson in Doha in the meddle of night, the night like Mr. Trump, he would tweet something and in the early morning all media outlets in Afghanistan would follow the lead; that was the first thing.
‘The second thing, I want to mention is media were busy with unanswered questions. There was no one to answer the questions media wanted to ask. Mr. Ambassador Khalilzad’s team never wanted to answer the questions. We had to wait until Mr. Khalilzad would visit Kabul and if he would give an interview out, and the same thing would repeat before elements of… until everything is agreed, but nothing is agreed. I think that changed at the end of the peace process. I think they agreed on first two elements, the withdrawal and the assurance of cutting the link between the Taliban and terrorist groups. But two other elements which are intra-afghan dialogue and the ceasefire, I think those were forgotten.
The third thing is the trust deficit, the public and the media didn’t trust the peace process because we had a lot of questions which remained unanswered and it created an era of uncertainty about the peace process. Actually, after Mr. Trump’s tweet about killing the peace process, media did some polling, we had a polled, I mean Radio Azadi in Afghanistan also Tolo news polling shows that over 75% of the voters were happy about the killing of the peace process by Mr. Trump. We published a question and asked the people to answer it on our social media platforms like Facebook and Tweeter. We asked the people if you want the restart of peace process between the United State and the Taliban, and 73% said no. There was an interesting… I mean a very interesting difference between Tweeter and Facebook, the Facebook users, most of them said no, but this so called elite, afghan elites and using English language for their communication, 55% said yes. So there is a difference between the general public, the crowd out there and the people who think they are the elite group and they speak English. I think there was another interesting incident that media covered it. After the Taliban attacked the Green Village, it was very interesting to see none of the western diplomats in Afghanistan, condemned the attack naming the Taliban, they said we condemn the last night’s terror attack. And some people started asking question “who is this last night, the new terror[ist] group” who attacked the Green Village?. So, none of the European countries including US condemned the Taliban after the Green Village attack directly, none of them named the Taliban. Then some of the social media users and journalists they start a question this attitude, maybe this is a new era, we are starting to enter. The British Ambassador and then the former British Ambassador to Afghanistan Mr. Nikolas K. he was the first, to come out and say I don’t mind condemning the Taliban by their name. But just a few days after that attack, when this Shash-Darak attack happened, an American was killed and another European, from residence support were killed, we saw the change in the attitude of foreign diplomats in Afghanistan, who this time condemned the Taliban calling by name.
So, I think the exclusion of people and public opinion makers here in Afghanistan including media was a big problem with the peace process in Afghanistan. And that is why people didn’t trust this peace process and they wanted so much transparency in the peace process, although as Minister Sarabi said, I think every single citizen of this country wants peace. This war started before I was born, so I have never seen a single day of peace in my life. But at the same time, the price of the peace is in the question. We have to question what kind of price we are going to pay, and who is leading the peace process. If the public…the general public is excluded from the peace process, and their legitimate representatives are excluded from the peace process, I don’t think this kind of peace process will result in a real peace.
David Sedney: Well, thank you very much Mr. Sami Mahdi, and I think there are a number of commonalities in what was presented but also a number of differences. I would like to explore first, taking advantage of moderator’s privilege here and ask two questions, and the first question that I would ask each of the panel members to come in for the idea of greater inclusion of having the afghan people, afghan women, people from around the country being included in the process has been a theme across the panelist, but how do you do that? So, how about some thoughts about some ideas on how to have that kind of inclusion as we look ahead towards a resumed peace process and if you don’t mind I will start with you, professor Maley, and just walk a cross, go across here for, ideas on how to- the problem is inclusion, what are some path ways to getting that kind of inclusion?
Prof. William Maley: Firstly, if you are going to have an inclusive process you need to give yourself plenty of time. A high speed process is the enemy of an inclusive process, it simply militates against the possibility of involving more than a small group of people, at elite level, in the discussions rather than wide swathe of a population. I and a couple of police published a paper with the Carnegie Endowment a couple of years ago on the possibility of trying to foster what we called a broad which was to try to provide in parallel with the frameworks of the constitutional process. A framework within which people who had become disgruntled with politics and disgruntled with the conditions of life in Afghanistan could have an opportunity to air their concerns to others in a non-confrontational and rather quiet way and think that is something which does have some advantages as long as you don’t try to rush the process and… speed things up in a way that will be entirely and natural.
It is also I think important to recognize that inclusiveness matters because people have themselves very different conceptions of what peace is and what peace needs to entail. There is a very good book that came out just a couple of months ago by Professor Richard Kaplan of Oxford University called ‘measuring peace’ and his argument is that peace is actually a highly heterogeneous concept with different understanding for different people, for some people peace is meaningless without a very substantial component of justice which may involve justice for the future but it also may involve justice in respect of what has been perpetrated in the past in a war-torn society, and if that is central to people’s understanding of the peace treating peace is simply the elimination for the moment of conflict is not going to work, even Thomas Hobbes in his book Leviathan families famously said walk and sit that is not in a shower or two of rain but unknown disposition thereto during which time that there is no guarantee to the contrary and in that sense peace is much more than just ceasing for a momentary blip in time if that were the case you could say Hitler brought peace to Warsaw when he ever he ran ever ran out in 1939. That is not what most people understand peace to be and the best encapsulation of this that I’ve ever come across was a comment that a Soviet dissident recorded about an anecdote that circulated in the Soviet Union in the 1950s a man went to his rabbi and said rabbi will there be a war? And the rabbi said no, there will be no war, there will be such a struggle for peace that not a stone will be left standing.
David Sedney: Minister Sarabi!
Habiba Sarabi: My proposal is very practical. First of all we have to expand the outreach program. We have to reach to the people who are at the provincial level and at the community level. So, we have already done some programs but if there is a big need for that, we have to go for every province and talk to people and get their ideas, not only women but also the youth and the victims of war. So, we propose even at that time to Ambassador Khalilzad that we are making a women group, we are making an advisory board. This advisory board will have regular meetings and also when there will be talks and negotiations, the person who is sitting at the table to negotiate with Taliban this woman Advisory Board should advise them and at the same time we need a kind of technical committee for them that this committee and advisory board should often talk and be connected to the person who is setting at table and talking with Taliban. So, this is one thing, of course the presence of a kind of site event or site presence for the civil society and the woman group is very necessary. There should be a place where the negotiators can meet the people, and also some place for the civil society and women’s group to link them with the negotiation’s team. This is my practical proposal and we have proposed this even during the US and Taliban negotiations. The same place is needed for the victims of war, this very important to listen to the victims and to hear their advices. Their voices should be heard and included in decision making or the agreement.
David Sedney: Dr. Sadr!
Dr. Omar Sadr: I think it depends on how do we characterize the inclusivity. It is usually understood that three groups should be included in the process: the victims, the minority groups and women. However, I think it is important to think about this in a much broader sense inclusivity should also be understood in a sense of existence of a vibrant public’s affair which provides a space for dissent, you could have this opportunity to come up and say something which is not an agreement with the establishment or the insurgents, so whether we have such kind of space of public sphere, that is questionable but of course the group will lead this kind of vibrant debate is public intellectuals and that is why in Afghanistan we don’t have much public intellectuals coming up debating major themes with respect to peace process.
Secondly, also in a fragmented society inclusivity will be much more challenging, not only the three mentioned groups, but also eight nationalist groups coming and claiming for some sort of space or representation in the process. So, what happens is usually representation of international groups will be competitive and that will also affect the outcome of the process and most of these international will think that representation in the table of negotiations will also determine their space or share as a result of any settlement which will happen, at the end so that will again create a kind of divisive politics as outcome of negotiation so for example what you see at the anti-Taliban constancy, they somehow push their agenda to be on the table and the aim was whatever outcome will come for example the share of the power, the share of the representation on the table will ensure the share for them at the end. So, that is why some of the people also think that as if we are only focusing on inclusivity in terms of international in Afghanistan it is better to move on to substantial policy issues for example of course transitional justice should be ensured that as an issue to be on the table and the woman rights should be ensured as an outcome of negotiation rather than trying to include all the dimensional groups in the process.
David Sedney: Thank you doctor, Sami Mahdi!
Sami Mahdi: Again, I will talk from media perspective, I think the personality of peace negotiators and their characteristics should not affect the general public trust in peace process. If they are not credible enough or they are understood to have hidden or agendas for the country or for themselves, then it is going to affect the public trust in the peace process. This is the first thing. And the second thing , yes the process should be inclusive when we talk about inclusivity, now inclusiveness in Afghanistan, it is not just about the different ethnic groups I guess, it is different cultural groups, and the generations, also women, women should be represented in the peace process in a more meaningful way, not just… I am sorry like a decoration of the process, their concerns, their ideas, their values, should be included in the process, otherwise, we are not going to have a peace process, but return to early days of 90s and 2000. That’s one thing. The government team, the team which is going to represent the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan should have credible personality there, not everyone just because they are named by the government to represent the Islamic republic of Afghanistan, can’t represent the public and the republic. That is why the first attempt of the government like one year ago when they, I mean they said they are going to have 12 people who will represent, a number of people who would represent the government, nobody took those people seriously, I’m sorry. The media didn’t take those people seriously, and nobody wanted to interview them from media perspective. Because nobody thought these people can bring peace to this country. Because they are not the real stakeholder of peace or war in this country. Thank you.
David Sedney: Thank you very much, I was going to throw out one more question myself before going to turn it to the audience and I look forward to some probing questions from the audience. My question for anyone or anyone who wants to answer here on the panel is looking ahead as the topic of the panel is but also the process that we’ve had over the last year has been a US Taliban negotiations in a third country (in Qatar). Is the way ahead a resumption of that same format or is there a need for the possibility for another format? So just anyone who has any ideas on the format way ahead, should it be continuation of what has been happening or resumption of that or we should be looking for something in the future? Mr. Sami Mahdi, something different I mean
Sami Mahdi: Well, I think the continuation of the current format wouldn’t lead to real peace in Afghanistan, because it has already collapsed after one year and almost ten or nine rounds of talks. So, there should be a change, in the format. Afghanistan should be included in the peace process, from the day one. Otherwise, I think we are going to have another US and Taliban peace process which would result I guess to a withdrawal not peace.
Dr. Omar Sadr: I think three things should change if we are supposed to resume the process first of all it should become more state centric and the government should be a part of it, that is not impossible because we had the experience of Abbottabad earlier, Taliban were willing to set with the government. Second thing we need to also shift the sequencing of the (three) four thematic agendas of the negotiations it should not be the withdrawal first and then the other settlements and grant grantees that Taliban don’t want present but the priority should be given to ceasefire first. Taliban should accept the overarching ceasefire. We should also think about some of the mechanisms to include the region because that was completely lacking in this whole last one year and that should be an inclusive manner otherwise there would be a risk of spoilers for example Indians out of the game, Iranians out of the game, any of them will can potentially convert into a spoiler so how to manage the spoilers is also very important.
David Sedney: Thank you doctor. Minister!
Habiba Sarabi: I think first of all the US should take the initiative to make the original consensus and also support the government of Afghanistan to do the regional consensus, but for the peace talks the government of Afghanistan should be included, without the inclusion of the government of Afghanistan, the peace process is not for afghan people, it is something that at the end there will be nothing. Thank you.
David Sedney: Mr. Maley!
Prof. William Maley: I think the process pursued up to this point is one to avoid all costs in the future. During the second world war one of Churchill’s political opponents died and he was asked what should be done with the body. And he said embalm, cremate, bury take no chances; and I think that very much applies to this process, there should never be an attempt at a process which excludes the government of Afghanistan because the attempt to do so is implicitly a thrashing of the entire of seeking a constitutional order for the county over the last 20 years. It is grossly irresponsible actually to embark on a process which by undermining that entire notion of constitutional government has potentially dramatically adverse consequences for the people of Afghanistan. So, that would be my first point.
The second point I would make is that if there is to be an engagement in the future it needs to be entirely realistic in understanding the regional environment and I think that my colleagues’ presentations here are spot on the I’ve read pieces about the recent peace process which made not a single reference to Pakistan as if the Taliban did not have sanctuaries outside the country which were crucial enablers of their actions. I’ve read analyses which have suggested that it would be almost unfair to ask the Taliban to engage in the ceasefire because that is their main tool that is implicitly and admission that they don’t have domestic popularity in Afghanistan in which they could ground claims to political legitimacy and frankly, I think it is very important that every attempt to renew the process focuses on what a different state has been infected a creeping invasion of Afghanistan from Pakistan, if nothing is done about that, we’re setting was seen for a situation which you might get signatures from Taliban negotiations on bit of paper and there will be not anything in place to prevent the inter-services intelligence Directorate from funding and equipping a new force to realize its geopolitical objectives in Afghanistan , you call it a hora que velocity or whatever and unless something is done forcefully to address that particular problem a great deal of talk about peace processes is just blowing in the wind.
David Sedney: Appreciate very much the Bob Delon reference there at the end. With that let me open it up to the audience for questions, look for to question maybe where, we will start here, please wait for microphone, someone is coming with a microphone. And then, please introduce your name, your filiation and keep your question pointed. Thank you. Turn the microphone on.
Gisoo Yari [Audience]: Thank you. My name is Gisoo Yari and I am from Civil Service Commission of Afghanistan. Great discussions and also a very different perspective on the people; I do have a very quick and direct question on more practical aspects of peace process, with a huge problem with the unity of the elite group you are discussing right now, without considering the local groups who need to be included in the peace process, I would be really appreciated to hear your proposal on how to unite the internal groups who will represent ultimately Afghanistan in the peace process how would you unite groups of political leaders to community leaders to civil society organizations to find a value and define a platform to go forward in the peace process in the future, thank you.
David Sedney: Thank you that is an excellent question as Sami Mahdi mentioned the First group, it was named to represent Afghanistan was not seen as consequential enough, the second group was quite large and that didn’t work out, there was a third group that again Maybe people thought partly represented Afghanistan. So how do you get representation represents not just the elite in Kabul, but represents all the important parts of the Afghanistan body politic. Mr. Sami Mehdi I am going to call on you first.
Sami Mahdi: Well, with all due respect, I think the government has done a poor job in bringing the people together, especially the political elite in Kabul. I mean we are not expecting the government to introduce a group of 300 people to go to Doha and negotiate with the Taliban. But, at the same time, the first group they have introduced were very poor. They were not the stakeholders and nobody took them seriously. I think maybe we could not bring everyone in the same room for peace negotiations with the Taliban; I mean a group of people who would represent every single part of the society, but maybe there should be another way of including people, like having more dialogues.
David Sedney: Let me move on to another question, I realized the question is not answered, but I’ll ask else that we go on, sorry minister Sarabi please go ahead if you…. Please go ahead.
Habiba Sarabi: I can highlight a little bit on that, it is a very tough question to be honest. I was responsible to make a list [of representatives] when we were going to Doha for the first time. I realized that how though it is to include everyone’s idea in the list, it was very very difficult; it was on Friday, as you know it is officially off in Afghanistan, and we have been talking from 9:00 am up to 4:00 pm, but we could not decide who will go, but at the end it was 215 names on the list. It is very tough but not impossible. We can do it but it requires a lot of work to do, a lot of discussions, coming and going, some of the political figures should come down a little bit. I think women can play a big role if we decide on the chap group that we have, but the AWN [Afghan Women Network] maybe sometimes women group can go and talk to these people. Also the civil society is something that we can encourage them to talk with the political leaders. Mostly, the political figures are the toughest, because they want to be the champion peace.
David Sedney: I am going to express my sorrow as a couple of things to say on this, now professor Maley but, after that rather than have all four panelists answer every of questions, I am just designate one to answer the question, so we have more questions. Professor…
Dr. Omar Sadr: we can do two things, first of all how we can accelerate the legitimacy in Kabul, that will unify up the…. And partisan politics at the great danger that oppose the peace process is that we do not create peace process as a national agenda which should be beyond any kind of partisan politics, but reducing into that. So, that is why it is very important to so that, third one is also to establish a kind of viable space for debate and also space for dissent. I think we should also avoid a kind of peace process which is only a single exclusionary one-dimensional process where a group of people are only negotiating. It should be much more multi-level, at the local level, community should be engaged, at the national level of course elite should be engaged and the other dimensions.
Prof. William Maley: just very quickly on the specific question of unity, I think unity is actually not something you can realistically expect in this situation, because people will legitimately have different perspectives on a whole range of critical issues related to the process. What’s really important is to have mechanisms for the peaceful management of differences and for the aggregation of different opinions into positions that can then be brought to play in diplomatic processes. This is where the legitimacy of the stat is so important than the legitimacy of the government, because if you have a legitimate government then people even if they disagree with its positions on specific issues will nonetheless recognize that it deserves generalized normative support and it will be possible to implement the commitments that government makes one the real difficulties at the moment, why there is a craving for a more inclusive process is that there is a sense at the moment that the government is not in a position to play that integrating role and deliver a legitimate outcome even in the context of differing views that exist at different levels within a society. Thanks!
David Sedney: professor Barry!
Michael Barry [Audience]: Michael Barry the University professor here at American University of Afghanistan. I was very much struck in all the conversations, how focus was brought to bear essentially on afghans to some extent on Pakistanis and on a particular Afghan American personality but the elephant in the room is the United States itself, given the power of the United States has shifted in its various positions since 2001, given how we know that Afghan public opinion regardless of what political side takes has been disoriented by shifts in American policy over the last two and a half years, I would like to ask the Afghan panelist in particular professor Maley also, what is your perception now of what American policy is, represents and should be in the region, can I conclude with a little image? You know how the symbol of American republican party is an elephant. We often refer in the English expression to the elephant in the room meaning a big massive presence that everybody knows is there and everybody polity avoids mentioning but, it is there and the third is to quote two of your poets Sanaee and Mawlana who tell the story of elephant which arrives in the village of the blind and some blind people touch the ear and conclude that the elephant is a big bone leaf and another touches the leg and says well, no it is a big tiller and actually no body agrees, so what is your vision is it a pillar or is an opponent?
David Sedney: Thanks very much professor. Who wants to start on that one, what is your vision of the United States at this point and us policy towards Afghanistan. Professor!
Dr. Omar Sadr: Well, when it comes to US policy, I think than last 50 or a half century, United States has abandoned many of its allies for example Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the king of Iran, and many more in the middle east. So that is why United States also abandon Republic of Afghanistan, the government as a matter of policy in respect of Khalilzad, so that was number one. Secondly, it is also how unpredictable president Trump is. I think we predicted all scenarios, but no one came with this prediction that president trump will come and cancel the talks because of something. So, that also makes it difficult how to have analysis of US foreign policy. And the third one is the factor of populism that I tried to raise that the whole process is shaped by and the conciliation is shaped by; if one US soldier is killed, the process is canceled [too]. That shows that there is no substantial policy standard, it is only a kind of moving back and forward because of few electoral decision making points. So [these] three things are important.
David Sedney: thank you. Mr. Sami Mahdi.
Sami Mahdi: Maybe just one sentence that now we know that there is an elephant in the room, and it is very unpredictable. With Mr. Trump that is what we understand. We have an elephant in the room and a very unpredictable one. Unfortunately, the peace process is cut up in between two election processes, one in Afghanistan and the other one in the united states. So, the afghan government, our president and other politicians were talking about the peace process according to their election interests. So, we are waiting just for another Tweet.
David Sedney: thank you. Ah… ok, please introduce yourself.
Walker [Audience]: I’m Walker I teach at the American University; this is specifically for professor; many years ago you wrote an article that was published in the International review of the red cross where you laid brilliantly a historical and geographical analysis of Afghanistan and I think you also quoted in there, how Afghanistan have lost its status as the Switzerland of Asia, but you also listed in that the emergence of the Taliban, today you said that was one of the flaws bringing the Taliban to the… giving them a seat at peace table. In many of your articles you evolve international law, you evolve diplomatic law, but … for Geneva conventions who is the Americans supposed to negotiate with, when they actually went to war with Taliban. So, I think no one is a bitten that America has no choice but to negotiate with who to went war with which was the Taliban. Now who should be exclude is not the point. I want you to address who should America negotiate with? when actually went to war with the Taliban, and America has its own interests of bringing home his soldiers.
Prof. William Maley: let me respond to that parts of the comments about the status of the Taliban as and international actor. When one says that United States went to war with the Taliban that can implicitly grant to them a particular kind of status and so the outset we should actually, ask the question whether the Taliban enjoy the kind of status that would be in place for example if we are talking about a war between several states. And the answer probably is a different kind of context that Taliban join their period in occupation of Kabul in 1996 to 2001, while only were recognized diplomatically by three actors, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirate, they did not succeed at any point obtaining control of Afghanistan set in the general assembly of United Nations. And they were not successful in explosively obtaining control of Afghanistan sets in other range of international fora as well. So, when we are thinking of how one might characterize the Taliban, can certainly see them as an armed group. But, whether would one actually from a legal pint of view accurately say that the United States went to war with the Taliban is a different kind of Question. If one thing goes back to the issue of how the involvement of the United States in Afghanistan form 2001 on would be legitimated, again it is not in terms of the United States going to war with the Taliban, but in terms of no objection of their presence being raised by the act occupants of Afghanistan set in the united nations at that time, in terms of a series of security council resolutions which gave approval to the political change which was taking place in Afghanistan following the Bonn agreement and subsequent engagement between different political actors, and then the consent of an Afghan government with broad international recognition and control of Afghanistan and sets in international organizations to the presence of the United States as a force; so, this may seem a cane but I think it is center to the issue, the involvement of the United States here, is probably best characterized as resisting threats to the position of a legitimately recognized government under international law and the Taliban in that sense can claim no grater status in any band of killer of murderer that is attacking civilians as part of tactical strategy to try to deal itself into the game, the question then becomes a role question of whether talking to this group is actually likely to delivering of value at all. And that bring respect to broader trust of this panel which is concerned with really the character of the negotiation process that was undertaken and is now collapsed. My view for very long period of time has been that on needs to engage with the groups such as the Taliban only with a greatest of caution, with a great deal of skepticism whether anything positive is likely doing cruel I didn’t go into this my earlier remarks but, I actually say not a shred of credible evidence that the Taliban if they got state power any difference from what they were like in 1990s, and that is a consideration with which one also needs to leave when one is looking what the negotiation process might deliver some. It is a bit of conveyable answer.
Mahmood [Audience]: Thank you for your nice presentations, and I am Mohammad Usman Tariq from European Institute of Peace working with Ministry of Peace. I have no really a question, but rather than a point to raise here, from my experience having a peace process stop somewhere is not the quilt of the peace process, it can continue we have a proverb in our country, that in a stream where water move before it can again move. I don’t believe that this abandoned at all. The second point that as an afghan I may suggest that afghan government has not to depend itself just with US and Taliban negotiation. It has to have a plan B and C as well which we don’t have it, if we succeed to have a second and third plan then if one is abandoned, the other can go ahead. My question actually will be that our panelists raised the exclusion of Iran and India, however I don’t know that Iran is excluded they are a part of support people to the Taliban, but no one talked about Russia. How much it is involved and how it suddenly raises to come to a kind of conveying some of these discussions we think between Taliban and Afghan politics as well as the afghan government, H.B.C and the Taliban. Three or four times, and there are also non-media raised events happening that our politicians are going and coming back in commuting to Moscow.
David Sedney: Thank you very much, broadly speaking I think almost everybody in the panel mentioned either in terms of past to the present, the roles of other countries, but I think the specific question about the role of Iran and India going forward and again looking ahead on the peace process, peace process ahead. Does anyone here in panel want to voluntarily speak in Iran and India.
Prof. William Maley: I just had a comment about Russia, I am glad you brought up Russia, I think one of the difficulties in assessing Russia at the moment is that the Russia in its international engagement has proved capable of being both strategic and mystifies. And it is quite difficult to know when looking at things like it is hosting delegations in Moscow whether exactly trying to pursue its strategic objective or whether is just steering the potter a little bit in order to add a salt and pepper to its relationship without the powers in the world with Afghanistan simply providing the opportunity to do something like that. I think it is certainly the one we need to watch but how it plays out, it is not so clear. Could I also endorse the you made about having plan Bs and plan Cs. It is all a kind of elementary diplomatic planning that if you are going to a negotiation process you do a kind of split chain discussion, if x walked in, if y walked in, one of the things that as sounds may anyone is surprised that it ends finally unraveled with a tweet from president Trump. I have been saying for months and months that how was the final decision maker Trump? They most unpredictable president in American history. And ironically some of the people who have expressed the greater shock and horror, Trump’s tweet, have been People who are writing about Trump’s domestics politics and how horrific he has been, it is a conundrum there.
David Sedney: Professor Sadr make a few words about Iran and India in the future.
Dr. Omar Sadr: one of the Students of professor Maley (Neshank) has written about the typology of spoilers in peace process. So, usually when we are talking about the role of regional countries, they are characterized as spoilers, but we need to know what are the specific types of these. Russians sometimes are a manageable spoiler because their interests could be addressed, and in exchange of something you can manage spoiler behavior. But in case of Pakistan it is quite hard to convince them to convert their behavior, I was somehow amazed by the way that Ambassador Khalilzad said that Pakistanis do not have any institutional linkage with the Taliban and we have miscalculated all this issues, so that is why they way that we analyze the regional context matters to believe that Pakistan has changed its behavior is not that easy.
David Sedney: thank you very much. Question in the back there? Next to last row please. Take the microphone all the way to the back.
Mitra [Audience]: Thank you, this is Mitra and I work as a researcher for N.C.D.P; we talked a lot about regional consensus, I think it is important to have a common narrative inside Afghanistan. As we saw the Taliban talks from a stronger position, because they have a clear sense. But we, our government says one thing, our political parties say another thing, and new generations say something else, I think we are not talking from a stronger position but Taliban do. The question is how we can create a common narrative to help us when we are on the negotiation table with the Taliban to start from a stronger position? First and the second from Dr. Omar I am really interested to hear more about the current popular global training and how can we understand it and how it could help us to be in an intra-afghan negotiation?
David Sedney: Maybe I’ll ask Mr. Sami Mahdi to answer. Ok, then back to Minister Sarabi, Minister Sarabi will answer the first question.
Habiba Sarabi: the first one, because I was in Doha and as well as in the first regional meeting in Moscow. It was a question which came from one of the youth representatives in Herat. Taliban have a common view, a common status, so it is common. Because Taliban are following a kind of dictatorship regime. So, when “the Amir” dictate something, all of them will follow that ideology. The text that they have written is something that they cannot change even a word of that text. I was sharing the draft declaration; they had a written declaration in Pashto. When we wanted to translate it into Dari, they were surprised, if it matches with the Pashto version. That text came from their leadership, and of course they could not change anything. They are like, we call it (Asp-e-Godi), just like that. But the democracy requires that any one should have a different idea, a different thought. It is not something that we cannot manage, we can manage it. But in Doha, the problem was that even we saw each other on the plane, and before the meeting we did not have any meeting to organize our ideas. This is the problem.
Mitra [Audience]: asking question…. [inaudible]
Habiba Sarabi: it needs a lot of work. But there are some positive points. I have seen a lot of common views between the civil society, youth, women and the government. There were so many commonalities between the government and the civil society, youth groups and women. This is very positive, of course the political parties have their own agenda, specially before the election, because they wanted to run their own agenda that is why you can see some differences. But it is manageable.
Dr. Omar Sadr: first, on the question of strength, I think we should not translate or understand strength as a heavy untidiness; diversity itself is a strength and in democracy, it is ok. But as professor Maley was referring it is about mechanism how we manage this diversity. But in Afghanistan, even the government interprets strength as a heavy untidiness, which has had negative implication on the process. On the global trends, in IR literature I think unipolarity is mainly unstable, Unipolarity is wise of global jihadism, the new liberal system of economic has also read to this some kind of dissatisfaction and jihadism and finally that how much the concept of right and left has become irrelevant and this that we do not completely comprehend this understanding of the concept of the political and the antagonism which has been established by this, somehow mislead us. So that is why I think if you look at the global structure of distribution of the power the unipolarity which is leaded by the US, it is in transition but somehow the system is unstable and this instability also reflected the rise of global jihadism which Taliban is a part of that.
David Sedney: Professor Maley you want to add something?
Prof. William Maley: yes, I am very glad you put your fingers on the issue of values because that highlights something about a negotiation which is often overlooked, how you frame a negotiation is very significant in term of what you then consider as central issues that need to be addressed or resolved, and I’ve been worried for a couple of years now, how the problem in Afghanistan has been framed as some of the people who are looking at specifically there was an article in the American press by the American full official Loral Mila which defined the problem in Afghanistan, the problem of conflict as wasted interests on all sides that was her specific words. Now, the moment you frame a conflict purely as conflict of interest you imply that there is a distributive solution of the problem that you are going to add and you bring greater sources to get a solution. That will not necessarily apply if there is a significant diversions of values between the different parties which were in conflict with each other and to me there has been far too much of a disposition to wish a way gulfs values between the Taliban and other forces in afghan society as if that is something that is just going to be magically resolved by an ill-defined intra-afghan dialogue, when you have a fundamental divergent values putting people in the same room is not necessarily a path way to any kind of solution, you can actually just play the role of remitting a conflict back to a battlefield or something like that. So, there needs to be I think a very stark realization that we are not just looking at conflict of interests, we are looking at more complex conflicts than an inter-space conflict along with representatives.
David Sedney: I am going to come back over here in a second, but I know we have a few students here and there has been a lot of talk, about the interests of youth and generations of the wise, so the gladly of the students who raise a question and make a comment? Please!
Mehdi [Audience]: hello every one, my name is Mehdi, I am a student at American University of Afghanistan. My question is we have three main groups, the afghan government, the US and the Taliban. Here my question is, despite the international peace efforts, why still Taliban want to have this negotiation only with US, while excluding the afghan government? What is that main thing that Taliban are looking for and US should provide for them?
David Sedney: thank you very much. Who would like to take on the question of why did the Taliban say they can only negotiate with the US? Minister first and then…
Habiba Sarabi: when I talked with them, they said that we had a government, we had a system. So, it was the US that destroyed all our system that is why we want to talk with the US first and then with the government of Afghanistan. This is their reason.
Prof. William Maley: just in response to your question, there is a very specific strategy which is played here which is de-legitimation of the government of Afghanistan. Governments in international affairs have a particular status which arises from a credited representatives of the states in whole range of areas and the repositories of authority in respect of a whole range of policy area, so if you want to advance your own position and you have limited claims to authority of your own one way of going about it is trying to undermine the legitimacy of those whom you are challenging and classically the way in which you would do that in a democratic election is by offering yourself as a candidate and accepting the outcome if the election is free and fair and you are a loser. But whenever I see a group which shies away from that as a matter of principle, to me it is a warning sign that now is in their hear of hearts, that they might like to exercise power but a lot of people around them would not like them to exercise power at all.
David Sedney: Mr. Sami Mahdi!
Sami Mahdi: Well, as professor Maley said, I think they are not negotiating with a government because it will further delegitimize the government, if they do not talk to the government. Second, I don’t believe, I don’t think that the Taliban were going to finally talk to the afghan government after they have the peace signed by Mr. Trump, because they never said they will talk to afghan government directly even after their peace settlement with the American side. They have always said that they will talk to afghan government and other stakeholders in the society and afghan government will be just one of them. It means they were not ready to give the status of a government to the afghan government. The reason behind that is, they do not want to give the legitimacy to the government, and I think after the withdrawal of the American forces, the afghan government will lose its only I mean the most important leverage for the peace process which is the presence of international troops in Afghanistan.
David Sedney: Please!
Maywand Rahyab [Audience]: this is Maywand Rahyab from… Commission. I think one of the most complex issues and challenges with the peace process was that the government of Afghanistan’s position was reduced to just a player or one party among so many others in the so called intra-afghan peace discussions. I was interested to see all the panelists talking about the future and redefining the role of the government that should be include in the peace process. Now, if we have an acceptable election and we are going to have a new government, do you think that still we should just include the government or it should take the lead in the peace process with the Taliban as well?
David Sedney: Ok, thank you very much for that question. Professor Barry has also noted that the topic of Iran has not been addressed. What I’m going to ask the panelists we also start with this and also I will ask each of you to make a couple of closing remarks address the question that was raised whether the afghan government should be a part of the intra-afghan dialogue or whether it should be the lead. If you have some thoughts on Iran and the final closing thoughts, so a couple of minutes from each of the panelists as we go across here, starting with you Mr. Sami Mahdi.
Sami Mahdi: Well, I think to address your question it pretty much depends on the legitimacy of the election we are going to have on Saturday, if we are going to have similar election like the one we had in 2014, I don’t think the upcoming government will be in a position to lead the peace process. But, you never know if we are going to have a fare and sound election on Saturday that will produce a different kind of government and more legitimacy to stand its ground against Taliban and lead the peace process. About Iran, I think as much as the relationship between Iran and United States getting worse day by day, that will have a direct effect on Afghanistan peace process and stability of Afghanistan, we know that Iran, Pakistan all of our neighboring countries have stake in this country and they are pursuing their own state interests, therefore I think what is happening now in the middle east, especially between Iran and Saudi Arabia that will have a direct effect on Afghanistan, we know the Fatimions, some of them are coming back to Afghanistan, we know that some of Daesh from Afghanistan and from the central Asian Countries are coming back to Afghanistan to maybe cross to central Asia or stay here. So, the war between Saudi Arabia and Iran is already going on in Afghanistan, so I am afraid that will have even more bad effects on Afghanistan.
Dr. Omar Sadr: I agree that the outcome of the election will determine the status of the government in the process, if we have a very strong government as an outcome which is less likely, of course the government much more legitimate to lead, but at the end because of our fragmented society you have you need to include every one even if we have a clear cut winner also the winner should be much more inclusive to accommodate others in the process. In the region I think there is a kind of divergent of perspectives and strategies. Most of the regional counties including Iran their priority is a mega economical geopolitical projects like Chabahar, north south corridor connectivity the same as the Iran with the Indians. And they see the long term presence of the US in the region against this mega projects in the region. So somehow that is number one. Second the concern of Iran as it was mentioned is because of growing presence of Daesh in Afghanistan, that is why they justify their new linkages with the Taliban based on the same concern, but ultimately what they want is a share in the process to not be excluded by the US led peace process.
David Sedney: Minister!
Habiba Sarabi: not only Iran, but the relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia as Sami Mahdi Also mentioned. It is directly affecting the peace process in Afghanistan. India and Pakistan relation is also something that directly affect the peace process in Afghanistan. Not only these counties, but China also, because they are connected with Pakistan and how they can get benefit form that. So, Afghanistan is located in a place where all of the regional counties including Russia have interests in and can affect the peace process. About the next part, of course yes. I hope we can have a strong government after the election, the government can take the lead. As he mentioned, we should have a plan B, just waiting or the US is not enough.
Prof. William Maley: thank you. I think it is actually the government that needs to in the driving seat in process of this all. The one situation in which you might not give the status to a government as you are talking about a public government which has, as you know, imperial sovereignty and now autonomy, perhaps Babrak Karmal in 1981, something like that you might say. But the history of attempting to conduct negotiations in the absence of the government that is not a public government is not an extremely unhappy one. There are three main historical examples, the Munich conference of September 1938 in which the British, the German and the Italians negotiated on the fate of Sodent land in Czechoslovakia in the absence of Czechoslovakia representations the Czechoslovakia was overrun by March 1939 by German forces. The Paris codes on Vietnam directly between the US and the insurgent forces within less than three years Saigon had fallen and then perhaps noted the case of the way in which the united nations as well as state treated the Bosnian Government after Bosnia has admitted to UN independent as if it was just another faction in conflict on the ground rather than an actor with a distinctive status by virtue of what it had achieved internationally and again that was a disaster that led to Gross ethnic cleansing severe social problem in Bosnia which prosiest to stay and no sense of mode to follow, and I can’t think of a single historic example where exclusion of a non-public government from predominant role in a peace process has led to anything but catastrophe.
David Sedney: Well, thank you, professor Maley. I thank all you, I would like to close with a four quick points. At first I would like to thank all of our panelists and I’d like to ask the audience to join me and giving a round of applause to them. Secondly, I would like to thank our co-sponsors the ministry of peace and the American institute of afghan studies for working together to have this event, which I think has been really productive and highly stimulating actually. Third, I’d like to thank all of the audience, the visitors from outside who came, the American University of Afghanistan faculty, thank you very much for your time, for your patience, for the students who came, I want to thank you especially for coming out on a national holiday which we learned this morning is a national holiday. So, I want to thank the audience. My fourth point, however is the deep deep desire of everyone here for peace. This university, our faculty, our students and our staff have suffered, we have lost friends, people who we know and have lost their lives in this conflict in recent years, over a hundred of students of faculty and staff were injured in an attack. And I would ask everyone to remember their thoughts and their prayers, our two professors Kevin King and Timothy Weeks who over three years ago were kidnaped remain held prisoners and who have no reason to be held prisoners. They are professors, three years, students have lost the opportunity to be taught by them. They were not fighters, they were not attacking anyone, we at the university have no power, we can’t do anything to address the issues that the people who took them have. So I will end this by calling once again for the release of our two prisoners. For anyone who listens to this, who has anything to do with this, please, please, release Kevin King and Timothy Weeks. With that I want to thank all of you for your attention and look forward to more events of this as I hope we see continuous movement to peace. Thank you all.
 Senior Advisor to the State Ministry for Peace (SMP).
 Professor William Maley, BEc LLB MA PhD. Professor of Diplomacy, Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy. ANU College of Asia and the Pacific. https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/maley-wl
 Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi, On 3 October 2001, the Secretary-General appointed Ambassador Lakhdar Brahimi as his Special Representative for Afghanistan. Mr. Brahimi is entrusted with overall authority for the humanitarian, human rights and political endeavours of the United Nations in Afghanistan.
 The Washington Post is a major American daily newspaper published in Washington, D.C.
 The office for the First Lady of Afghanistan founded in 2014.
 Hezb-e-Islami, meaning Islamic Party is an Islamist organization that was commonly known for fighting the Communist Government of Afghanistan and their close ally the Soviet Union. Founded and led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, it was established in Afghanistan in 1975.
 Prof. Hamida Barmaki was a renowned Afghan law professor and human rights activist. She was killed together with her family in a suicide attack in 28 January 2011.
 Shash Darak is a neighborhood located in District 2 of Kabul, Afghanistan, and includes some of the more important buildings in Kabul, including the palace, the headquarters of NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, the Afghan Defence Ministry and the CIA's Afghan station.
 Abbottabad is the capital city of Abbottabad District in the Hazara region of eastern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan. Where Osama Bin Laden the leader of Alqaeda was killed.